By Adrienne Gladden

When Americans are hungry, they want to eat as soon as possible. Whether it is a college student searching for a late night craving fix, or a working mother attempting to feed her children after a long day, one of many quick solutions come to mind: fast food.

The consumption of fast food has been one of the largest-growing epidemics as of late. Dating back to pre-modern Europe and Ancient Rome, fast food is the easiest, cheapest, and most efficient way to eat in today’s America.

At first, a typical “fast food meal” was a burger, fries, and a soft drink, but in this day and age, it can range from Mexican food, breakfast food, Chinese food,  pizza, sub sandwiches and more.

In the United States alone, Americans spent about $110 billion on fast food in 2001, a large increase from $6 billion in 1970 (Schlosser ). On average, about 25 percent of Americans consume fast food every day (Ransohoff).

Twenty-one-year-old Chris Carson goes is one who exceeds the standards of fast food consumption: “I eat fast food at least…I would say on average, 10 times a week.” However, Twenty-one-year-old college student Rebecca Winpigler does not fall under this category: “I probably only eat fast food about once a week.”

When eating fast food, one is not usually concerned with the calorie intake. In fact, many Americans go over their daily recommended amount. According to the American Heart Association, active individuals should not go over 2,400 calories a day, and moderately active/sedentary people should consume less than that.  

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, “while there are some ways to eat a well-balanced, nutritious meal at a fast food restaurant, the unhealthy options are more common and more appealing. Often, someone can consume all of the calories they need for the entire day in one sitting at a fast food restaurant.”

Health precautions for food do not generally stop Americans, as they generally consume over 3,500 calories a day or more eating their favorite fast foods.

“My favorite fast food restaurant would be Burger King because I believe they have the best fries and the best char-broiled burgers,” said 18-year-old freshman Brianna Taylor. But calorie intake is the furthest thing from her mind.

“I don’t care, I just eat them,” she said.

In fact, Burger King’s most famous burger, the Whopper, packs about 670 calories.

Winpigler’s choice is a different type of fast food: “I like Chipotle because I don’t feel like it’s as unhealthy as McDonald’s,” she said. “Also I think it tastes much better. I do not know the exact number of calories, but I do know it’s a lot.”

The Center for Science in the Public Interest also believes that “few restaurants provide nutrition information at the point of ordering.  As a result, we often get more calories, fat, and salt than we realize.”

Chipotle, however, is one of the few restaurants which actually show the amount of calories on its menu. With all options added their burritos total up to a whopping 918 calories, almost half of the recommended daily intake.

Cost is a large factor in determining most frequented fast food spots, and Carson recognizes this: “Right now my favorite fast food place is McDonald’s. I mean I’ve always liked them, but to be honest, Taco Bell has gotten pretty cost efficient nowadays with their $2 Meal Deals. They’ve really been stepping it up.”

He is also one of few who can actually acknowledge the dangers of fast food: “I can estimate, I mean I don’t know the exact numbers but I know it’s pretty bad.”

Even campus “fast food” is among the unhealthiest. The myth of the dreaded Freshman 15 holds true, as many of the things that are served in dining halls are high in calories and fat.

Hood College, for example, serves some healthy options such as fruits, vegetables and salads, but this is sometimes overpowered by their daily options of burgers, fries, desserts, a fully stocked nacho bar, and three different types of pizza.

But the school’s campus center eatery, The Blazer, houses some of the unhealthiest food choices of them all. Linda Smith, one of the employees at the Blazer, agrees with this claim.

“The unhealthiest things here are basically anything that goes in the fryer, which is practically the entire menu,” she said. “The healthiest thing would be the Garden Burger with no bread.”

One of the unhealthiest menu items would be The Gordo, consisting of two chicken tenders and two mozzarella sticks smothered in marinara sauce, topped with shredded mozzarella and loaded into a fresh hoagie roll (CampusDish).

Smith also acknowledges the amount of customers that order each type of food. “Everyone orders everything fried. Nobody gets a Garden Burger unless it’s with bread, ketchup, mustard, lettuce, and lots of cheese.”

Despite what people may think, fast food restaurants have healthy options or alternatives that can be practiced. To eat fast food without as much “consequence,” eliminate the large meal sizes; avoid too many condiments, sugary sodas and fried foods; and even try out the kids’ menu, which offers a more controlled portion size.

“I’ll alternate between healthy and unhealthy foods,” Carson said. “Like in the dining hall when the food is bad, I’ll eat a salad. But when it gets late and I’m hungry, fast food is my only option.”

Many people have different opinions on fast food, and most are bad.

“McDonalds, for example, is sickening,” said Taylor. “It makes people fat, which is why we have obesity in adults and children.”

Carson feels very strongly about the dangers of fast food.

“I think that the government approves of fast food and doesn’t even regulate it normally. They don’t care about our health, honestly,” he said. “The sicker we are, the more money they make in hospitals and other places. They don’t care if we eat it every single day, which is why they price it so low because they know they’re going to make money in the long run anyway.”

With the pressures of America and nutritionists all over, the fast food world is striving to make it a healthier one. Right now, more than 20 states and localities are considering policies that would require fast food restaurants to show calories and other nutrition information on menus and menu boards, and four have already passed policies. Fast food chains have even began to offer healthier options, such as McDonald’s Premium Chicken sandwiches and salads, and the new Kentucky Grilled Chicken. Because of this, fast food is being combated, one individual at a time.